Allergies are becoming more and more common with around one in three people presently suffering from some sort of allergy. Yet I have found in clinical practice that quite often people do not realise they are allergic to something that is causing recurrent and sometimes debilitating symptoms. A typical example of this is dustmite or mould allergy. The only symptom you might notice is fatigue and headache or a postnasal drip that just does not seem to go away. Because allergies are so common and can cause significant health problems it is worth discussing how you can recognise if you have an allergy and also learn what you can do about it. Note that food allergies are not discussed here as they have been covered in #24 on recognising food upsets.
Why Do Allergies Happen?
Allergies occur when your immune system overreacts to a usually harmless substance. This substance, called an ‘allergen’, can be anything, but there are some common things listed below that have been frequently found to cause allergic reactions. Most occur shortly after exposure to an allergen. For example, seasonal allergies are likely to worsen on the same day that the pollen count goes up. If you are allergic to cats and you visit the home of someone who owns a cat, you are likely to start developing an allergic reaction before you leave the house. Some allergic reactions can occur hours or days after exposure to an allergen e.g. some forms of contact dermatitis to plants can develop several days after the exposure.
Allergies can develop at any time in our life but are most common in our childhood years due to our developing immune system. It is possible to go through life and not be allergic to anything or, on the other end of the spectrum, some people develop allergies to multiple substances. There is a genetic component to the development of allergic tendencies that can run in families. However you do not necessarily develop an allergy to the same substances as your relatives.
Why Are Allergies So Common?
We do not yet know exactly what is causing allergies to become so common. There have been many theories proposed including the ‘hygiene hypothesis’, which states that we live in a society that is too clean and this is causing people to not develop proper immunity. Other theories centre on our food not being the same as it used to be. Artificial colours, preservatives, flavours, and pesticides are blamed. Others state it is an imbalance between omega-6 and omega-3 fats in our diet that is causing more allergies or perhaps a change in the microbes that live in our gut that is responsible. Unfortunately at this stage in our understanding of why allergies develop we are left with a big question mark. Hopefully with advances in research we will know more in the coming years.
What Can You Develop Allergies to?
Common substances that people can be allergic to include:
- Cat, dog, and horse dander (hair)
I have even met patients who have been allergic to their own sweat, to the heat, and to contact with their own skin. They develop an itchy rash, welts, and in some cases nausea and a mild fever. These types of allergies are, luckily, rare and can be very difficult to manage.
Dr Cris Beer
Holistic Medical Doctor